Write-up of Research Project: A Ecl 560
Research projects should be written up in the format of a journal
article. Use the standard format, like that used in Ecology,
Limnology and Oceanography, Transactions of the American
Fisheries Society, Journal of Wildlife Management,
etc. Present your data and analyses in figures or tables that
are readable and easy to interpret. References should be cited
in text and listed in the bibliography following the guidelines
published in the CBE Style Manual. A short summary of the format
of research articles is presented below.
- Structure of a research article: The
text should be divided into six sections that introduce the subject
matter, describe methods, data, and interpretations, and present
the reference material in a scholarly fashion. Scientific articles
should be concise and succinct. Superfluous material and tangential
discussions reduce the value of reports and scientific manuscripts.
Do not forget that everyone who reads your work is busy and wants
a direct and economical vision of why you did your work, what
you found out and what it means to science.
- Clearly identify the subject and illustrate its importance.
- Orient the reader by presenting a brief review of the literature,
stressing and evaluating past work that impinges upon the subject
- At the end of the introduction, you should state your hypothesis
or hypotheses in testable form. Make sure the reader understands
precisely what question your research sought to answer.
- Make sure that the literature you review is unmistakably relevant
to the problem or hypothesis
- Remember that this is just and introduction! Reserve your
results and discussion points for the appropriate sections.
- Methods (analysis techniques, et. al)
- Describe the methods making sure to include sufficient detail
so that another scientist could evaluate and repeat your study.
- Try to avoid including irrelevant details but make sure you
mention all important points that will allow others to evaluate
the reliability of your work, or repeat a similar study.
- Make sure you make good use of literature citations, especially
for complex methods that others have described and justified elsewhere
in the published literature.
- If you have presented or justified hypotheses in a logical
order in the Introduction, try to present the methods for
different kinds of data in a similar or coherent order. For example,
do not tell how you sampled before you tell where you sampled.
- Present your results in an orderly and coherent order.
- Include data and illustrations in the clearest possible form.
Try several different ways of presenting information to find which
is clearest and most concise. Figures (i.e. diagrams or graphs)
are frequently easier to understand than a written description.
- This section should indicate the most important points on
each table or graph. Only present data once in a manuscript. For
example, do not give a table of data then present the same ones
in a graph (by the way, the word "data" is plural, "datum"
is singular!). Original, raw data should always be included in
reports and theses, and should be placed at the end in one or
more "appendices". This approach keeps cumbersome information
out of the text, leading to smoother flow.
- Do not omit negative results. Negative results (e.g. "no
significant relationship", etc.) are usually as important
as positive ones.
- Try to avoid discussing your results while you present them
(this is tough!). If you find it impossible to develop a smooth
presentation without discussing results as they come along, consider
crafting a "Results and Discussion" section.
Many journals will accept (even prefer) this.
- Discuss the meaning of your research. Interpret the information
presented in the Results section, emphasizing the problems,
hypotheses and ideas presented in the Introduction.
- Answer these questions: Do your data and analyses support
your hypotheses? Do your data and analyses answer questions, paradoxes
or controversies seen in the literature or those developed in
- Connect and compare your results with previous published studies,
mentioning agreements and disagreements. Try to explain reasons
for differences among studies, if possible.
- If most of your results seem inconclusive or negative, discuss
the possible reasons for this.
- Mention new questions that are raised by your analysis. For
example, if the five studies in the literature show a certain
kind of result, and your results differ radically from this, try
to think of ways in which your study or study system differs that
might explain this paradox.
- Draw conclusions. Link together the parts of your manuscript
with coherent discussion.
- You usually write this last, but place it just after the title
- The abstract is a succinct paragraph of 100-200 words.
- Mention your hypotheses, tests, methods, results conclusions
and most important interpretations.
- Use the standard CBE format for these, unless you are preparing
the manuscript for a specific journal. If so, use the format explained
in the "Advice to Authors" statement, usually published
in the journal once or more each year. Failing this, copy the
format used in manuscripts published by the journal.
- Order references by the surname of the first author.
- Include all references cited in your manuscript, but only
those references. Do not include general reference material not
cited in your write-up.
- In most good scientific articles, every statement about scientific
knowledge should be supported by appropriate reference material.
If you write something in a manuscript that is not simple logic
or a conclusion drawn from your data, other scientist expect to
see the statement supported by a reference citation.
- Here's how to cite references in the text:
- one author: Franklin (1990) or (Franklin 1990)
- two authors: Downing and Peters (1985) or (Downing
and Peters 1985)
- three or more authors: Clark et al. (1992) or (Clark
et al. 1992)
- unpublished material: Downing (unpublished data) or
Downing (pers. comm.)
- See the reference list at the end of this for some examples
of how to list references in the References section.
- Include a table or tables of your raw data, and submit a diskette
with your report.
- Put complex formulae or other mathematically intensive bits
into appendices so they do not encumber the text.
- Tables and Figures
- Each of these should be prepared on a separate page and must
have a clear title and figure number written next to it (e.g.
at the top of the page).
- Figure legends are usually all grouped together on a separate
page marked "Figure Legends" when you submit a manuscript
for publication. For a Project Report like this, however, you
may put the legend on the same page as the figure.
- Table legends should always be on the same page as the table,
and must be complete enough to allow the table to be understood
without reference to the text.
- Refer to all tables and figures in the text. Write "see
Table 1" or "Figure 1 shows that....", or (Fig.
5), or some other reference to every "display item"
you provide in your manuscript.
- General Advice on Writing Manuscripts
- Write Succinctly: Write as clearly and as briefly as
possible. Make the text long enough to cover the subject but short
enough to keep it interesting. Excess verbiage is not valued by
anyone, especially editors.
- Uniform Units: Use uniform units throughout your manuscript.
Do not switch from meters to centimeters, kilograms to grams.
Use only metric units.
- Organize your Manuscript: Sometimes it is helpful to
start writing your manuscript with the Methods section,
then the Results, then finally the Introduction
- Analyze your Data Carefully: Be careful and thorough
in your data analysis. Make sure you use analysis methods that
give clear answers and responses to the questions you have advanced
in the Introduction and elsewhere. Don't let anyone find
a pattern in your data that you have missed!
- non-standard abbreviations and jargon.
- teleology, anthropomorphism, and arty affectations.
- Do not Over-interpret: Make sure you do not get carried
away interpreting every little blip on a graph, or statistically
insignificant differences or correlations.
- Use the proper verb tense: Record observations and
completed procedures in the past tense. Write directions, generalizations
and references to stable conditions in the present tense.
- Use the Active Voice: It is best to say, "I analyzed
the data..." rather than, "the data were analyzed...".
Use the active voice unless you have a good reason to do otherwise.
The passive voice can lead to ambiguity.
- Learn to Use Standard Scientific Styles: The organization
of written scientific works seems unnatural and too highly structured,
but you must learn to use it efficiently if you want a career
in science. This format will allow you to communicate effectively
with other scientists. This is the format that scientists are
used to seeing. You can understand the utility of this by considering
a radio transmitter and receiver. Both must use the same format
(transmission type and frequency) or else the message will be
garbled. DOS and Mac computers present similar examples. Even
brilliant science will be judged to be nothing or worthless if
presented in a format that scientists cannot easily understand.
This scientific format should thus be viewed as a simple aid to
improve the efficiency of information transfers. If you take the
time to learn to do this well, you will be richly repaid for your
Example Reference Formats
Journal Article, One Author
Downing, J.A. 1989. Precision of the mean and the design of benthos
sampling programmes: caution revised. Marine Biology 103:
Journal Article, Two Authors
Silva, M.B. and J.A. Downing. 1995. The allometric scaling of
density and body mass: a non-linear relationship for terrestrial
mammals. Am. Nat. 145: 704-727.
Journal Article, Several Authors
Pace, M.L., S.B. Baines, H. Cyr, and J.A. Downing. 1993. Relationships
among early life history stages of Morone americana and
Morone saxatilis from long term monitoring of the Hudson
River Estuary. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 50: 1976-1985.
Chapter or Article in a Book
Tilman, D. And J.A. Downing. 1996. Biodiversity and stability
in grasslands. p. 3-7 in F.B. Samson and F.L. Knopf (eds.), Ecosystem
Management. Springer-Verlag, NY. 462 p.
Silva, M.B. and J.A. Downing 1995. CRC handbook of mammalian
body masses. CRC Press. 359 p.